Posts Tagged ‘attitude adjustment’

The Charlatan Within: Wrestling with Imposter Syndrome

May 7, 2015

How often do you feel like a fraud? It’s happened to all of us. At some point or other, we all know what it feels like to struggle with the burden of feeling like we don’t measure up or as if we’re passing under false pretenses. Those nagging questions, “What am I doing here? Is this my group? Do I qualify?” can burrow their way into our awareness, leaving us feeling jittery. Sound familiar? The challenge for all re-booters is to move to a place where these questions arise less and less of the time.

Recently, I started working with an executive coach to help me get a handle on what in the hell it is that I think I’m doing with my life, and she introduced the possibility that maybe I experienced some of this. Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but now that she articulated it for me, the picture is coming a bit more into focus. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. There. I said it. Not in all cases and not in all circumstances, and I have sufficient confidence that it might surprise some of you to hear me profess this, but here I am saying it. To you.

The anxiety we feel when we worry that we’re not good enough or somehow have arrived in this “place” by mistake or, maybe, that those around us—you know, the ones who truly “belong”—simply haven’t looked closely enough to recognize that we don’t fit in amongst their august group is an uncomfortable reaction that settles into the pit of our stomach or clutches at our chest. Is this an issue for you in some part of your life?

I bet it is.

In terms of re-booting, there is usually a sense that we don’t fully mesh with the life we are living, whether that’s because we detest our inescapable relatives or the career we’re stuck in or you name it. I mean, look at Bruce Jenner, right? Talk about agony. “This isn’t fully me,” we mutter under our breath, vaguely uneasy. “I’m not sure I fit in.” For me, I feel like I’m wobbling around, straddling life in two canoes, trying to hold it together as they drift further and further apart. There are many such dilemmas, but mine (for right now) is my career path. Part of me was/is the professional, accomplished, Type A obsessive/compulsive performer, but another is the creative, somewhat scattered and definitely random but hopefully funny writer. Except 1) I’m no longer a professional and only-sort of-in-the-most-attenuated-way a lawyer, but 2) I’m not quite a writer yet—not in any real way that “counts”. I’m trying to be both, but not very convincingly. Am I fooling myself or do I think I’m fooling you? Because the whole thing makes me anxious, I shut down this line of thought, put my game face on, and head onto the field…

I hate this sort of dissonance. What’s worse is the internal debate about what it is I’m going to do about it. This sort of purgatory is a key reason we need to re-boot our lives. It’s what propels us forward.

Perhaps you grew up in a family where athletic prowess is the highest form of achievement and while, sure, you’ve got long legs and can run like the wind, you’ve never cared about being a pass receiver or hurdler; you’d way rather play the tuba. Only, there’s not enough time to go to practice and study music, besides nobody at home wants to hear you honkin’ away, so it’s easier to make them proud embracing a sport that doesn’t interest you much—even if you’re great at it. Or perhaps you think of yourself as an artist only you’ve never had a show and only sold a couple of works for a couple of bucks, a couple of years ago. Have you “earned” the title of being an artist? Do you deserve to consider yourself part of this group? Two different constructs. Two different types of dilemmas. Same fraudulent feeling. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Where in your life do you feel like you don’t belong? Why is that? What possible steps might you take to move closer to that place where you do fit? What shift or attitude adjustment might you make to own what it is you really want? Where you’re closer to being the authentic you instead of the imposter you?


Take five minutes to think about this.

A few nights ago, I trooped downtown to the conference room of some big, fancy law firm to attend one of those university alumni lecture things about marketing and personal branding. Since I am a terrible self-promoter, I found it quite helpful, but one slide the professor showed really caught my attention. “Prepping Yourself to be Found” it proclaimed in bold letters. Prepping yourself to be found. Allowing ourselves to be seen. Is this something you want? To be seen? As you really and truly are? As you wish yourself to be? The artist tuba player? It’s easier to stay hidden, isn’t it? It’s safer to pretend we’re somebody else—that jock who ignores the band nerds.

“I’m tired of pretending I like them, anymore,” confessed a friend discussing their self-absorbed and utterly dominating in-laws. Now, while I would never encourage anyone to be their authentic self by expressing open disdain to extended family, I can sympathize with the forced, tight smile or feigned indifference we must assume when who we are clashes with what we want. Imposter Syndrome arrives cloaked in all the colors of the rainbow. What cloak does yours wear?

The goal of re-booting is to shed some of these layers, to strip away what we find stifling, to embrace that part of ourselves we’ve been fighting all these years. If it helps any, know that I continue to want to call myself a writer but struggle with whether or not I deserve it. But then, I tell myself, there are a lot of crappy writers out there—way worse than I—who run around all day long proclaiming to the world, “I’m a writer!” So, why not me?

Why not you?

The Groundhog’s Infinite Loop

February 2, 2015

For many of us, February 2nd is the day we find out how much longer winter will linger, depending on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. But for me, I think Groundhog Day should be declared the official Day of the Re-booter. The film Groundhog Day is a terrific example of someone who must learn to change by being forced to deal with the same issues over and over. Sound familiar? Ring any bells? What difficulty are you wrestling with time and time again? What? Your past strategies haven’t worked? Might you need to find another way to deal with such matters? Hmm?


Who’s the groundhog now? You, that’s who!


One of the significant aspects of this film is the fact that the screenwriters were able to play out the same scenes repeatedly and still entertain the audience. The premise could have bombed—seeing Bill Murray do the same thing, again and again—but it didn’t. We watch, doubled over with laughter, as this Pittsburgh weatherman reveals himself to be an arrogant fool who slowly learns that kindness and patience are much better options. I want to make a couple of points about why this film is important and why it’s a perfect re-booting vehicle: 1) it takes mastery and skill to create a screenplay that leverages the same old material in a variety of ways to make its point; 2) finding the humor in a situation is a way more approachable and powerful technique for tackling serious subjects than wagging your finger in someone’s face; and 3) we are all Bill Murray—arrogant, unaware, and ridiculous, but willing to “go with it” if we find ourselves down a rabbit hole.


Case in point: this past weekend, I took a marvelous, one day screenwriting workshop (where we didn’t discuss Groundhog Day, fyi). Knowing nothing about the medium, I was eager to learn and had pen in hand. There were 14 of us crowded around a big, square table—most of them even looked normal. At the first break, as people were milling about, a respectable, pleasant looking woman in her mid-60s made a bee-line for me.


“Do you have any food I can borrow?”

“What?” I looked up, wondering if I possibly misheard her.

“I’m hungry.”


I’m not sure why she selected me out of a room full of people to make this request. Perhaps I look particularly well fed or radiate an energy that communicates I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without plenty o provisions in my purse. I had not entered the room with a sack full of groceries nor did I have any food displayed beside my notebook. I had a bottle of water, that’s it. That’s all I had.


I looked at her and mumbled, “Uh, nooooo.”

“I’m hungry.”

Wanting to back away slowly, I shrugged (I wasn’t ready to part with a portion of my sliced apple stashed safely in my purse), so she left. The class resumes. At the next break, the same woman approaches me again.


“Do you have any food I can borrow?”


You might borrow clothes, a car, or some money, but you don’t borrow food. Or toilet paper. WTF? This person looks neither crazy nor poor. There’s a café a couple of yards from our building. Go get your own food, lady, and leave me be. Because I had already dealt with this issue before, I looked over at her place and she had a half bagel and cuppa joe sitting right there! What in the world is going on??? Fortunately, the man next to me jumped in and offered this bizarre person something to eat. The entire interaction was so strange and hilarious at the same time, well, these are the sort of interactions that make me happy.


That’s what I mean by Groundhog Day.


It’s not that I am supposed to learn some great life lesson from this particular incident, but I am always on the lookout for the humor. People are unpredictably strange, doing things according to their own, mysterious internal logic. It’s what keeps life interesting.


So, let’s segue onto a more serious path. What issues keep coming up for you? Have you crossed paths with multiple examples of a challenging personality type over the course of your life? Is there a situation you think you know how to handle, but it keeps blowing up in your face? This is your Groundhog Day. You are Bill Murray. If things aren’t working according to your liking, perhaps you need to reconsider your approach. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order.


“Well, what do I do?” you frown. Here’s a suggestion: think about someone you admire and ask yourself how they would do things differently? You might even talk to them about it. Are they able to handle this person or situation more successfully? Why not try copying them and see what happens? Perhaps they have gone through an excruciating difficulty that is, while not the same as yours, still very hard. If you believe they’ve done a good job with it, ask them how they decided to do what they did. Learn their process. Try it out.


See what happens. Avoid the infinite loop.



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